What can behavioral science teach us about advancing behaviors that enable respect for human rights?

Behavioral science combines economics, social psychology, judgment, decision-making and neuroscience to better understand what triggers, shapes or impedes specific behavior. Over the years, it has helped revolutionize approaches to public policy in healthcare, education, crime reduction, energy efficiency, taxation, savings, political participation and more. The private sector has also used behavioral insights for decades to help influence economic behavior, particularly in marketing and sales. Yet, in the business and human rights space, the powerful tools of behavioral science have remained underutilized.

Thinking of business and human rights in behavioral terms

For years there has been a great deal of attention to the policies and processes that companies need to have in place in order to implement respect for human rights. Yet, policies and processes are only a means to the end of improved outcomes. They set out what an organization is supposed to do. But companies need to evaluate whether they inform what people actually do if they are to achieve positive outcomes.

Companies are increasingly recruiting behavioral scientists to meet corporate objectives; making use of existing resources to also address business and human rights issues would therefore not seem foreign. However, businesses need to have better clarity of what they seek to evaluate. In other words, to understand what are the critical behaviors needed within companies to respect people’s rights.

What we are doing in this area of work

In 2019, we held an expert consultation with companies and behavior science experts to explore the intersection between behavioral science and business and human rights. Since then, we’ve worked to identify some distinct challenges that may benefit from behavioral intervention.

We are now in the process of designing some specific interventions and engaging with companies to test our thinking. Below you will find our latest thought pieces, resources and outputs.

Latest Resources

Research and Outputs on Behavior change
4 Resources
September 2020

Does our human rights work… work? The case for experimentation and testing

Everyone working to ensure that business acts with respect for people is in the business of behavior change. We want companies, and individuals within them, to act in ways that enable respect for human rights. That being so, it’s intriguing that we have not drawn on the vast range of existing psychological insights about how […]

September 2020

Adding Human Rights to the Shopping Cart

Online shopping is booming. In the UK in 2019, average weekly online retail sales rose from £1.45billion in 2019 to £2.2billion in May 2020. Retailers have struggled to keep up with demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, comparing it to the Black Friday and Christmas rush periods. A critical part of the online shopping value chain […]

July 2019

Expert Roundtable on Business, Human Rights and Behavioral Science: A Summary Report

This document summarizes our expert roundtable on April 24, 2019, where we explored the ways that behavioral science informs the public sector, and presented this research in an attempt to find ways in which these practices could be used to promote business respect for human rights.

July 2019 | Concept Note

Business and Human Rights Meets Behavioral Science: A Background Note

This pre-read for our April 26th consultation in London provides a brief overview of current thinking in behavioral science, and ways we might apply that thinking in a business and human rights context to improve outcomes for people.

About the Valuing Respect Project